Thursday, April 30, 2009

Player Profile : Joel Griffiths

Joel Griffiths
The vitals:
age - 29
position - forward
number - 29
height - 181 cm
years with Guoan - 1
appearances - 4
goals - 3
Griffiths (or 乔尔 - 格里菲斯 aka 大格)was one of Guoan's few off-season additions, along with his brother Ryan, and has instantly become a fan favorite, especially for his scoring our first goal of the season against the side that loaned him to us, Newcastle Jets. There is actually a bit of controversy over that as Guoan paid a $320,000 loan fee to Newcastle though the agreement expressly stated that Griffiths wouldn't be able to be used against them.
He's been an extremely prolific player in the A-League, scoring 76 goals in under 200 league matches. In 2007-2008, he won the A-League title with Newcastle, as well as earning himself the Golden Boot and being named the best player in Australia that year. He's spent some time playing in Europe and Japan and it was originally expected that he'd return to Newcastle and receive a very large salary when it was suddenly announced that he was headed to Beijing.
Griffiths made his Australia debut in 2005 in a match against Jamaica, however he has only made 3 appearances for the Socceroos over the years. His Guoan form is sure to get him a look or two from the national team coaching staff.
Griffiths has been a crucial attacker for the club, though his temper has got in the way a few times. He was shown a straight red card in the match against Changsha and is currently suspended for 5 matches for his frustration elbow in the Shandong game. He certainly is a dynamic player and has been critical to Guoan's attack. Some of his goals, in particular his diving header against Newcastle are highlight reel stuff and his nose for goal makes him a difference maker who we really want to see back in green soon.

CSL Attendance Statistics

Now that we're 6 games into the season, I decided it was time to take a look at how attendance is going so far this year. The figures in Shaanxi and Beijing are very encouraging, and Jiangsu is very impressive for a newly promoted team. One wonders what is going on in Shanghai, however its mainly due to their weak attendance at their first game. Changsha is a joke and it was always expected to be that way, but hopefully Qingdao will improve after a few more home matches. Here's the list:

Shaanxi Zhongxin : Average = 37,196
Round 1 - 38,000
Round 4 - 35,000
Round 6 - 38,588

Beijing Guoan : Average = 35,000
Round 1 - 40,000
Round 3 - 30,000

Jiangsu Sainty : Average = 22,772
Round 2 - 21,000
Round 4 - 21,000
Round 6 - 26,315

Shandong Luneng : Average = 20,952
Round 1 - 18,000
Round 2 - 20,457
Round 4 - 21,735
Round 5 - 24,523
Round 6 - 20,044

Guangzhou Baiyunshan : Average = 19,000
Round 3 - 20,000
Round 5 - 18,000

Henan Construction : Average = 17,661
Round 1 - 23,000
Round 3 - 13,396
Round 5 - 16,588

Chengdu Blades : Average = 17,333
Round 3 - 18,000
Round 4 - 22,000
Round 6 - 12,000

Tianjin Teda : Average = 15,552
Round 1 - 15,000
Round 3 - 20,030
Round 5 - 11,626

Hangzhou Greentown : Average = 15,297
Round 1 - 15,000
Round 2 - 16,235
Round 4 - 14,656

Shanghai Shenhua : Average = 14,667
Round 1 - 11,000
Round 3 - 17,400
Round 5 - 15,600

Chongqing Lifan : Average = 13,867
Round 2 - 12,000
Round 4 - 14,000
Round 6 - 15,600

Dalian Shide : Average = 13,500
Round 2 - 12,000
Round 5 - 15,000

Shenzhen : Average = 12,750
Round 2 - 16,000
Round 3 - 11,000
Round 4 - 16,500
Round 6 - 7,500

Changchun Yatai : Average = 11,872
Round 3 - 12,000
Round 5 - 11,317
Round 6 - 12,300

Changsha Jinde : Average = 6,892
Round 1 - 8,000
Round 2 - 8,230
Round 3 - 4,200
Round 4 - 6,500
Round 6 - 7,532

Qingdao Zhongneng : Average = 6,500
Round 5 - 6,500

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Top 5 Reasons Why Beijing Guoan is Better than Shanghai Shenhua

5. Shanghai's won the league more times since professionalism was implemented in Chinese soccer, but we've won the cup more AND won more throughout history.

4. Fan Zhiyi, Shen Si, Xie Hui, Mao Jianqing vs. Gao Hongbo, Shao Jiayi, Yang Chen, Xu Yunlong, Huang Bowen? Guoan's made a far greater contribution to the national team.

3. Hongkou Stadium vs. Gongti (Worker's Stadium)? Gongti's the winner, plain and simple, Sanlitun nearby, on two subway lines, bigger size, and held far more important events, plus more character.

2. Mao Jianqing can't hold his alcohol and needed 2 other guys to help him beat up 1 guy and 2 girls. Plus, he's a total national team failure.

1. "Flowers of Shanghai" vs. "Green Lions/Imperial Guard"? Again, hands down, Guoan takes it, those "flowers" are a perfect representation of Shanghai's men.

Oh yeah, one bonus reason: 9-1!

Reliving 9-1

The History of a Rivalry : 9-1

It was a hot summer's night in 1997 and a huge crowd showed up at Gongti to watch their beloved Beijing Guoan take on the hated Shanghai Shenhua. You see, Beijinger's don't like Shanghainese and vice versa and back in those days, just like it is today, both teams were made up with mainly local players who knew the rivalry between the cities and the teams that represent those cities.

What those fans didn't know is that they'd be treated to one of the greatest footballing feats in Guoan history. Over the course of two hours, those fans witnessed a total shellacking of a hated rival, as Andres Olivas Rubio and Casiano each scored 3 goals, Campos added 2, and Cao Xiandong finished off the scoring. Shenhua's only response came from Wu Chengying and couldn't serve as consolation for Shanghai fans who watched the match.

While most Beijing fans won't admit it, we are more than a little jealous of Shanghai's titles in 1995 and 2003. We've yet to win the league, though we are the "Kings of the Cup" having won it 4 times in our history. The lore of the 9-1 match is something Guoan fans have held on to tightly over the years. It is still possible to see "9-1" signs show up in the stand in Beijing and sometimes when road fans make the trip to Shanghai as well.

To those fans involved in this rivalry, its like Arsenal-Tottenham or Yankees-Red Sox, it is a true hatred and the only thing that can comfort me when Guoan loses is seeing Shanghai lose as well.

The rivalry has everything to do with the hatred between the two cities and of all the "China Derby" matches that receive that title, this one is truly the one that takes the cake. These two teams and their fans don't like each other and these matches always live up to it. During the CSL years, Beijing has won 3 times, lost 4, and came up with 3 draws. I'm not expecting Friday to be 9-1, but I hope the history of that game is remembered and when the final whistle is blown, Beijing secures 3 points.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CSL Matchday 6 Recap

What a rough week! I go 2-6 and only 6 goals scored in 8 matches made for some pretty piss poor football. Nothing more needs to be said, let's go to the games:

Changsha Jinde 0 - 0 Guangzhou Baiyunshan : WRONG
What a way to start! This crappy snorefest shows that Changsha got their mojo back and are once again playing their anti-football as the masters of the nil-nil draw. Some decent chances for both teams, but not much to talk about. Original Prediction: Changsha 0 - 1 Guangzhou.

Jiangsu Sainty 0 - 0 Henan Construction : WRONG
Saturday was all about the nil-nil as upstarts Jiangsu faced off against top of the table Henan. The home side outshot the visitors, but it was Netto's header just wide that was the best scoring chance in the 1st half. Jiangsu dominated the 2nd half chances, but still came up short as both teams walk away with a point and Henan stays on top. Original Prediction: Jiangsu 2 - 3 Henan.

Shenzhen 0 - 1 Hangzhou Greentown : WRONG
Okay, so I have a soft spot for Shenzhen that has been exposed week in, week out. If I go with my heart instead of my brain again this year, I deserve to be punched. Shenzhen is a bad football team, they just escaped going down last year and it would be no surprise if they fall this year. In the rainy conditions in Shenzhen, they failed to convert on a 1st half penalty kick, and then were beaten by an Otto goal minutes into the 2nd half. Original Prediction: Shenzhen 1 - 1 Hangzhou.

Chongqing Lifan 1 - 0 Dalian Shide : WRONG
I thought Dalian's performance last week was a turning point in their season, it seemed like some of their squad were finally starting to come together, however a road defeat in Chongqing is a massive disappointment. Chongqing isn't a very good team, but Guinee is a damn good forward and his bulk and power make him extremely difficult to stop. Good chances fell to him as well as Dalian's Ahn in the 1st half, but it was Guinee's early 2nd half goal that made the difference. The goal was on a penalty kick, coming off a good scoring chance where he was pushed in the back. Dalian tried to get back into it, but didn't have enough to equalize. Original Prediction: Chongqing 0 - 2 Dalian.

Chengdu Blades 0 - 1 Tianjin Teda : RIGHT
Tianjin needed to regroup and facing Chengdu would be a fairly easy way to do that, however they didn't make things easy for themselves. Much of the 1st half was controlled by Chengdu, though Tianjin had a decent counterattack. In the 2nd half, Hao Junmin was able to make some moves on a defender and knock in a goal midway through the half that was enough to secure them 3 points and move them into 2nd place. Original Prediction: Chengdu 1 - 2 Tianjin.

Changchun Yatai 1 - 0 Shanghai Shenhua : WRONG
Yes, I was wrong, but this is one I love to be wrong about. Cao Tianbao's header off a 1st half corner was enough in what was a fairly rough game, as has been Shanghai's trend this year, Changchun received 4 yellow cards and Shanghai received 6, Yu Tao personally received 2 of the cards and so was shown red in the 51st minute. Actually going down a man helped Shanghai briefly as they quickly came up with 2 solid chances, but neither made it past the keeper. Changchun regrouped and made some substitutions and was able to claim a nice victory over Shenhua. Original Prediction: Changchun 1 - 1 Shanghai.

Shaanxi Zhongxin 1 - 0 Beijing Guoan : WRONG
See the full, miserable write-up on this here. Sad...Original Prediction: Shaanxi 0 - 1 Beijing.

Shandong Luneng 1 - 0 Qingdao Zhongneng : RIGHT
The Shandong derby should have been full of fireworks, though as expected Qingdao was a little more pumped up to play in this one. Qingdao went on the attack early and probably should have been given a penalty kick, though Shandong quickly responded with some chances of its own. The lone goal came early in the first half off a beautifully delivered Wang Yongpo free kick from just outside the box. Shandong continued to press, but was unable to get another goal, while Qingdao came up with a few counter attacking opportunities, game ends, Shandong wins, end of story. Original Prediction: Shandong 3 - 1 Qingdao.

2-6 for the week, but maintaining my 21-19 winning record for the season...

Matchday 6 Review : Shaanxi Zhongxin Early in the

Poor Lee!  With all the pressure on his team, this is just about the time fans will take a serious look at him and start questioning his managerial prowess.  In reality, we aren't that bad off through our 6 league matches and 4 Champions League ones, however expectations were a lot higher at the start of the year and inconsistent play has been killing us.

Lee can only seriously be blamed for his coaching errors, like not putting a taller defender on the pitch against Ulsan during Matchday 3.  This week, Lee had to deal with a highly depleted lineup, having Huang Bowen out for 3 months is bad, but Tao Wei missed the match with an injury as well and Yang Hao was out with a fever.  Guoan's lineup looked far different from what we've seen most of the season, with Sui Dongliang and Wang Hao both featuring in the lineup for the first time this year.  Further, missing Tao or Huang is okay, but missing both is extremely tough as there is a lack of creativity in the midfield.

That, and the nearly 40,000 screaming fans that showed up in Xian made for a very tough environment for Guoan.  Shaanxi was in control of the game early and was able to put together a number of great chances, getting unlucky a few times, before finally putting the ball past the keeper in the 17th minute on an unusual play.  The ball was swung in from the left, Paul and a Shaanxi player went up for a header and both missed it when the ball bounced off Zhang Yonghai and fell to a Shaanxi player whose shot on net was headed wide before Wang Erzhuo was left all alone on the back post and knocked the ball in.  

At the half Guoan was lucky to only be down by one and after the game Lee commented about how horrible the first half play was.  A major part of the problem had to be how unfamiliar the midfield was with each other and how they weren't up to match fitness.  Lee took off Wang Changqing at the start of the 2nd half and put Guo Hui on, then took off Sui shortly after that, giving Yan Xiangchuang a chance to work his magic again (unfortunately he wasn't able to).  Guoan had a few chances throughout the game, but nothing that was good enough to equalize.

Where do we go from here?  The first thing, obviously, is to hope that our players get healthy and come back soon, though we should be able to get by without him (them).  In 10 matches in all competitions, we have 3 wins, 4 draws, and 3 losses.  It is still early days in the league and no team has clearly jumped ahead and up to now no team has impressed, it still appears there is not a squad head and shoulders above the rest and that it's not time to seriously freak out, YET.

The China derby is coming up on Friday and Guoan has a few days to recover and prepare.  A packed house at Gongti, a holiday Friday, and best of all, Shanghai coming to town should be enough to motivate the squad.  The quicker we can forget this result the better in an overall crazy CSL weekend.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

CSL Matchday 6 Preview Part 2

Due to some personal obligations, I sort of took a few days off, but I'm back and (almost) better than ever. Like a lot of Guoan fans, I'm looking forward to May 1, not for the holiday, but for our match against 9-1. Yes, it's about that time, the team formerly known as Shanghai Shenhua will now go by 9-1. My predictions were shit yesterday, so was the football, but there are some pretty tasty matchups to look forward to today, here goes:

4.26  15:30    Chongqing Lifan - Dalian Shide
However you want to slice or dice it, Chongqing's a crap football team.  Dalian is not, they've been mediocre for much of the season, but it seems like Ahn Junghwan is finally adjusting to the CSL and getting more opportunities.  While it's not always easy to play in Chongqing, this one should be pretty cut and dry.  Prediction: Chongqing 0-2 Dalian.

4.26  15:30     Chengdu Blades - Tianjin Teda
There was a time a few weeks back that Tianjin coming to town would be something to fear, now its nothing special.  This Tianjin side has been totally exposed as a solid attacking team with absolutely no defense.  Fortunately for them, Chengdu's attack isn't very strong and so Tianjin should have no problem outscoring them.  It's going to be a fight, but Tianjin should win in the end.  Prediction: Chengdu 1 - 2 Tianjin.

4.26  15:30     Changchun Yatai - 9-1
Changchun delivered an excellent fixture when they went head to head against Shandong, can they do the same against 9-1?  9-1 is coming off a midweek loss in Korea and will hope to regroup, their inconsistency over the season makes it hard to predict which 9-1 side will come out.  This being in Changchun, I have a feeling its going to be a pretty tight match.  Prediction: Changchun 1 - 1 Shanghai.

4.26  16:00     Shaanxi Zhongxin - Beijing Guoan
Our guys in green take on the northwest wolves on the road (full preview here), they're up for it, but this has been a pretty screwy weekend so far, I could definitely see this ending in a draw, but I'm confident in Guoan.  Prediction: Shaanxi 1 - 2 Guoan.

4.26  19:30     Shandong Luneng - Qingdao Zhongneng
We have derby day in Jinan as Shandong and Qingdao do battle in prime time.  Shandong only managed a midweek draw in Seoul, while Qingdao has struggled all season.  There's always talk about throwing the records out for a derby, and you gotta expect a lot of effort from Qingdao, but it takes more than effort to win a football match.  Shandong should cruise to a win, with Antar putting in one of the goals.  Prediction: Shandong 3 - 1 Qingdao.

Matchday 6 Preview : Shaanxi Zhongxin

Guoan's two matches against Ulsan in the Champions League were pretty bad, two losses and losing Huang Bowen for much of the season. So far this year, the team has been able to regroup after Champions League struggles and hopefully this week will be no different. You have to want to win every competition you are in, but for the fans, winning the league is a far more important goal than Champions League success. We still haven't lost in the league and are only 4 points back of Henan at the top, who've played one more game than us.

The lineup is definitely going to be effected by Huang's loss and it will be interesting to see how Lee handles it. Our midfield is packed with many options. Matic is a must at holding midfield, but from there, you have the choice of Du Wenhui, Yan Xiangchang, Ryan Griffiths, Tao Wei, Yang Hao, and Martinez. Many of these players can play on the wing or in an attacking role, and a player like Yan or Du is in a position where its time to step up and be stars or just eek out a career as mediocre role players. They show a lot of promise, but its time that they deliver on it.

I've been hard on Huang all year, he's struggled this season, has yet to score a goal, and even missed a critical penalty kick. However, losing a player like Huang for the better part of the season is massive. Huang, best wishes from all us fans and hope you'll get well very soon. While the manager was having a hard time putting together a midfield that worked and his decision making now gets easier, it's tough dealing with this loss.

Back to this game and our opponents, the "Northwestern Wolves", Shaanxi Zhongxin. They are a fairly weak team with a bad home record, losing twice (to Shandong and Shenzhen) on their own pitch and drawing once. Yet this is a side that always seems to get at Lee Jangsoo, last year Guoan lost at home and drew on the road while in 2007 Guoan only managed 2 draws. The fans in Xian are famous for being rabid and can get a little wild, fans were allowed in for the practice and according to Lee the tense atmosphere influenced the squad's practice.

The behavior of Shaanxi's fans has served as a motivating factor for Guoan. Ryan Griffiths said that he definitely wants to score a goal after getting an idea what things would be like on Sunday, Du Wenhui declared that Guoan has to shut up the big Xian crowd and come away with 3 points.

I love Du's spirit and motivation, now let's hope he can deliver. Enjoy this beautiful Sunday weather in the capital and get ready for the action, kick off's at 16:00.

Friday, April 24, 2009

CSL Matchday 6 Preview Part 1

Changsha Jinde - Guangzhou Baiyunshan
Changsha is back at home and that's a scary thing for football fans. Guangzhou's attack is solid, led by the CSL's leading scorer, Xu Liang, while Changsha's defense can hold back many defenses, Guangzhou will be too much. Prediction: Changsha 0-1 Guangzhou.

Jiangsu Sainty - Henan Construction
Henan is at the top of the table and upstarts Jiangsu have been playing excellent football. The foreign heavy Henan attack should just squeak past Jiangsu's Wuhan pair. Prediction: Jiangsu 2-3 Henan.

Shenzhen - Hangzhou Greentown
Can Shenzhen finally take advantage of being at home? Hangzhou is a beatable side, but Shenzhen will have to play more like they did against Shandong rather than their nightmare against Shanghai. For Hangzhou, this is a match that decides what kind of season they will have, signs point to it not being good. Prediction: Shenzhen 1-1 Hangzhou.

Sorry for the brief post shying away from the format, but this is done entirely on an iPhone as I try to get these out before tomorrow's games. Special thanks to Pass By Bar, whose wireless i'm using to write this. It's nice to have visitors but everything will be back to normal and my full preview of Guoan's match will be up.

Wherever you are this Friday night, raise a glass, cheers Beijing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Player Profile : Yang Zhi

Yang Zhi - 杨智

The vitals:
age - 25

position - goalkeeper

number - 22

height - 187 cm
years with Guoan - 5

appearances - 103

The only Guoan player other than Xu Yunlong who has appeared in every match so far this season is Yang Zhi. Since coming to Beijing on a transfer from Shenzhen, Yang has been a regular for Guoan, an ironman who is almost never out of the lineup.

Yang, originally from Guangzhou, came up in the Guangzhou youth team before moving to Shenzhen in 2002. He led the team to the 2004 CSL Championship and caught Beijing's attention and was brought to the capital. His time in Beijing has been good for Yang, success in the capital has led to a number of national team call-ups.

Yang's high flying style in the net is one of the only reasons Guoan is where they are right now in the league. If he gets a bit of help at the back, this team definitely has the potential to go a long way, but even without that, Yang is the kind of keeper that can carry a team.

Champions League Matchday 4 Recap : Ulsan Hyundai

Well, I've had some familial responsibilities as of late which has led to some serious slacking n the blog, as well as missing Wednesday night's game. Having read a lot of the recaps online, I'm not really surprised with what happened, as almost all of them place the blame on the defense. Watching how it happened, I'd totally agree, Oh's all alone on the far side of the box while 3 Guoan players are just standing in the 6 yard box haplessly watching the ball go in. Of course, if the offense was a little more potent, this wouldn't have mattered, so all the blame can't be placed on those at the back, but these major missteps are par for the course. Opponents rarely score against us due to great attacking plays, its typically due to mindless play.

Losing this match was bad, but losing Huang Bowen, who went down with a really horrible looking ankle injury in the 1st half, is far worse. In what was a very rough game on both sides, Huang's injury will really hurt us. He's now going to be out for at least 3 months and though we've had so many midfield options and guys step up, it really hurts to lose such a solid player for so long.

At this point, we're sitting in 3rd place with 2 matches remaining, 4 points behind Nagoya and 2 behind Ulsan. It's fairly simple, get 6 points in the remaining matches and advance, fail to and deal with the disappointment of being eliminated in the 1st round. If that happens, I have a feeling a lot of fans are going to start talking about the future managerial situation for our team. It's away at Shaanxi this weekend, a win would be the best way to forget about this disappointment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Champions League Matchday 4 Preview : Ulsan Hyundai

We are blessed with a Wednesday clash this week as Guoan gets back to the Champions League and tries for revenge against the only team to beat them so far this season, Korean side Ulsan Hyundai.

Today's a beautiful day in this the Imperial City and tomorrow night is expected to be just as nice as our Boys in Green battle it out for 3 points.  This is an extremely tight group with a mere 2 points separating first and last.  Guoan has a slight advantage, playing two out of the three remaining matches at home.  If you draw on the road and win your home matches, its typically enough to put you through, we got the results on the road, now its time to win.

Ulsan's not a pushover, though, despite their weak Champions League performances going into the Guoan match and their poor domestic form.  Plus, there's the whole issue of a Chinese team playing a Korean one, be it at the club or national team level, Korea just knows how to beat China.

As far as I'm concerned, there's only 1 key to this game, controlling Kim Shinwook.  Lee Jangsoo, please, please take Paul out the doghouse and put him in the lineup, we need him.  Lang Zheng will do, too, but Paul's build leads me to believe he'll play Kim physically and make him think twice when going up for those headers.  I'm not so sure Lang is cut out for the job.  No matter if its Paul or Lang, in no case should Zhang Yonghai be among the starters, he already proved he couldn't deal with Kim's height and the only strategy Ulsan had in the last match was knock the ball up field and get Kim in the air.

After how Du Wenhui and Yan Xiangchuang played in the last match, can we expect to see them in the lineup?  It seemed Du suffered a minor injury in the last match, is he fit for this one?  What about Zhou Ting, who now will be out of our next league match after being red carded?  Lee's squad that faced Shandong was one of the better ones we've seen this year.   Part of it is obviously building up teamwork as they get a few more matches under their belts, but a major part of it is getting the right mix of 10 guys.

I'd like to see Tao Wei remain up top with 2 attacking forwards, Yan played hungry against Shandong and he deserves a start on the wing, the question is do you choose strength and give Ryan Griffiths another run out after spending so much time on the bench lately or do you go with Yang Hao's speed, or Du Wenhui's attacking prowess.  Then there's the small matter of what you do with Huang Bowen.  Kind of a nice problem to have so many strong midfielders, Lee just has to find the right mix.

Considering its at home and 3 points are needed, Guoan has to put out an attacking formation, though going with both Du and Yan on the wings would be a bit much, perhaps.  The key to this match will be neutralizing Kim, Ulsan relied on him heavily in the last match, if they don't get many free kicks near the box or corners and a taller defender can keep him from getting long balls, 3 points aren't out of reach.

The song us fans always sing is "Guoan is Always Number 1", let's get 3 points and put ourselves in the driver's seat in this competition.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

CSL Matchday 5 Recap

A great weekend of action, though last night's FA Cup semifinal put me to sleep. As for my predictions, it was an impressive week, going 7-1 to finally have a winning record for the season at 19-13. Without further adu, here we go:

Shandong Luneng 2 - 2 Beijing Guoan : RIGHT
For the full wrap, go here. The first game was everything I hoped for, just too bad Guoan couldn't pull it out. Very exciting and Antar is damn good, Shandong must do everything they can to keep him. Original Prediction: Shandong 1 - 1 Beijing.

Tianjin Teda 0 - 2 Jiangsu Sainty : WRONG
Once again, Jiangsu's two Wuhan transfers carry the team to victory. Tianjin now moves down to 3rd place and the crowd of teams sitting on 9 points. Tianjin, while possessing a strong offense, is seriously lacking in defense (could this be due to loss of Matic?). On the other hand, Jiangsu's defense is incredibly stable and they were able to hold off the Tianjin attack, while responding with their own in the 2nd half. Original Prediction: Tianjin 2 - 1 Jiangsu.

Shanghai Shenhua 4 - 1 Shenzhen : RIGHT
It was defenders that did it for Shenhua, with Yanko Valkanov getting the only goal in a fairly ho hum 1st half, though things got more interesting in the 2nd when he and Du Wei both came up with goals. Shenzhen was able to get one past Qiu Shenjiong in the 72', but Gu Bin added one more in the 88' as Shanghai easily cruised past Shenzhen and into 2nd spot. Original Prediction: Shanghai 1 - 0 Shenzhen.

Dalian Shide 3 - 1 Hangzhou Greentown : RIGHT
Carried by Ahn Junghwan's brace (the 1st on a questionable spot kick) and one from Li Kai (a beautiful diving header off a corner), Dalian was carried to victory. While Hangzhou tried to make it interesting through a goal by Otto, it wasn't enough. Ahn transferred to Dalian this year and was supposed to be the difference maker, someone to bring this team back to glory and this week he was able to. This team is a player or two away from once again being a contender. Original Prediction: Dalian 2 - 0 Hangzhou.

Changchun Yatai 0 - 0 Shaanxi Zhongxin : RIGHT
Snore...Changchun was able to come up with a number of chances, but none good enough to get past the keeper, while Shaanxi did very little and should be happy to come out unscathed and with a point. I hate talking about these nil-nil matches and it seems there's one (or two) every weekend in the CSL. Original Prediction: Changchun 1 - 1 Shaanxi.

Henan Construction 2 - 0 Changsha Jinde : RIGHT
Henan's win puts them at the top of the table, with two goals before many fans even got to their seats from Olisadabe (3') and Xu Yang (5'). This huge shock to Changsha was too much and their typical defensive strategy was shot. They were unable to regroup, especially going a man down due to Wang Qiang's two yellow cards, both given during a very chippy 20 minutes or so in the 1st half. Original Prediction: Henan 1 - 0 Changsha.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan 3 - 1 Chongqing Lifan : RIGHT
Wet conditions in Guangzhou saw the visiting squad jump out to an early lead with a goal in the 19', however shortly before the end of the half Xu Liang nailed a long freekick and did his salute celebration for the 5th time (leading the league in scoring). Guangzhou added 2 more in the second half to seal the deal. This Guangzhou side's got some talent, they'll be in the middle of the table this year, but if they pick up a transfer or two, they have potential. Original Prediction: Guangzhou 2 - 0 Chongqing.

Qingdao Zhongneng 2 - 1 Chengdu Blades : RIGHT
Some very bad weather in Qingdao, though Chengdu was able to open the scoring in the 1st half, but failed to continue the attack. Qingdao came up with some good opportunities, but wasn't able to open their account. However, early in the 2nd half, Qingdao equalized off a booming header on a corner kick, then followed it up with another just before the end of the match. Original Prediction: Qingdao 2 - 1 Chengdu.

A great week for the CSL (and my predictions) and we have some Champions League matches to look forward to midweek before a full weekend of matches.

Matchday 5 Review - Shandong Luneng

Thought 1: Dude's got some hops!
Thought 2: "Everyone in a green shirt is a hero tonight" (courtesy of Joel Griffiths)

This was arguably Guoan's most well played match of the year, but most definitely the most entertaining of the year. Guoan lined up in a 4-4-2, rare for this season, with Griffiths and Martinez up top, Yang Hao and Huang Bowen on the wing, Tao Wei in attacking position with Matic in the holding position and Zhang Xinxin and Zhou Ting helping Xu Yunlong and Zhang Yonghai at the back.

Beijing started out controlling the ball, but very quickly were met with a Shandong counter attack. Unfortunately, just 2 minutes into the match, a beautiful cross was played into the box, just between Xu and Zhou who only watched as an outstretched Han Peng knocked it into the back of the net. After that, Guoan went back on the attack, in the 21st minute a great chance off a set play corner kick, though Griffiths knocked it high. Shandong went back on the counterattack and an almost identical situation to the first goal ensued, this time it was Li Jinyu instead of Han, but he couldn't put it away.
Shandong's defense was full of holes and Guoan did a great job finding them, unfortunately they just couldn't finish in the first half. It was a fairly physical first half, with 5 yellow cards and a strange red card, given to Zhou Ting just before the half came to an end. Shandong was given a corner kick in extra time in the 1st half, there was a player injured and all the sudden the camera showed the referee chasing after Zhou Ting, with Xu Yunlong chasing after the referee. It seemed that Zhou said something to referee Wang Xueqing that pissed him off.

So Beijing went into the locker room down 1 goal and 1 man on the road. How they decided to respond to that situation would say a lot about where this team is going this year. They responded fairly quickly. Early in the 2nd half, Martinez went on a slinky run, but kept the ball to himself and hit his shot wide. Shortly after, Tao Wei was taken off for Du Wenhui, a good move because Tao didn't have one of his better matches. Moments after coming on, Du made a difference, going on a run down the left wing and then crossing the ball in the middle only to have it go off a Shandong defender. It wasn't a pretty goal, but it was much deserved the way they were controlling the match.

Du attempted to push Guoan ahead with a long shot that challenged Li Leilei and was very impressive. Just as it appeared things were headed in the right direction, Shandong had a corner, which Antar headed on to Han Peng who was alone and wide open right in front of the keeper, Han finished it off easily for his second of the night.

With less than 20 minutes to go, it looked like this was the end, having fought to get the match to even, Guoan was now back in the hole. That wasn't the case at all as these guys had no quit in them. In the 77th minute, Li Leilei came way out to get the ball, but Martinez got there first, went around him, but failed to get the shot off in time. A little later Griffiths made a nice run, but was (rightly) flagged for offsides, a bit frustrated he elbowed the Shandong defender, but fortunately the referee missed it. Lee Jangsoo made another substitute, taking off Yang Hao and bringing on Yan Xiangchuang who, only a minute later, made the difference, stealing the ball from a Shandong defender and passing it to Griffiths, who put it away. 2-2 and the scene you see above of Lee running down the sidelines to celebrate with the players.

The game was back to even, but Guoan wanted all 3 points. Zhang Xinxin led a counter attack, giving the ball to Yan who made a great run, but shot it just wide, then Guoan had a 3 on 1 but nobody pulled off a shot. The last chance of the game came when Yan made a play in the box, though Li Leilei came up with a great save.

A draw at Shandong, all things considered, was a fairly decent result. One thing that has to be said, Roda Antar is damn good. He was all over the pitch, making an offensive play, then going all the way down the field and making a defensive play in his own box. The guy is crazy good.

Anyways, I've said it before, I'll say it again, this Guoan team goes hard. They haven't always played well this year, but they have yet to quit, always trying for 3 points. It's hard trying to award a Man of the Match for this one, so I'm giving it to Substitutes, as the two subs, Yang and Du changed this match.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"It's the Freakin' Weekend..."

Despite the change in the weather and skies that have held the threat of rain all weekend long, I'm still in a great mood.  I try not to blog on the weekend, the weekend is a time for much football and much drinking, but this weekend is an exception, because it's a sports fan's freaking wet dream, lots of CSL, the FA Cup Semifinals, the NHL and NBA playoffs, how can you not be hyped?

Guoan kicked it all off in interesting fashion on Friday.  Only 1 point but it was by far their most exciting game of the season and, quite possibly, their most well played.  Just when you feel its time to get down on the team, they pull out a game like this.  I still have my issues and I'm still not entirely sold, but it certainly was an encouraging sign.  What great drama the fans in Jinan were treated to (and they really showed up, attendance was around 25,000).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CSL Matchday 5 Preview

Here we go again, 12-12 on the season, hoping for a winning weekend. We've got CSL football, the FA Cup, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the NBA too, what a weekend for sports. But by far the most exciting game of the weekend will be the first one, let's do this thing:

4.17 19:30 Shandong Luneng - Beijing Guoan
Unfortunately (I shouldn't be using that word), I have something called a job, which means I'll be watching this one from Beijing instead of sitting in Jinan, but such is life. For the full match preview, go here. I'm in a pickle, I want to predict this one for Guoan, but I also don't want to jinx them, therefore, its a draw. Prediction: Shandong 1 - 1 Beijing.

4.17 19:30 Tianjin Teda - Jiangsu Sainty
What am I to think of these 2 sides? Can Tianjin's defeat last week be ignored, chalked up to the bad weather? Jiangsu's squad isn't looking like a newly promoted team, they're looking solid, and it seems almost every year a newly promoted team makes a respectable showing. It's going to be an interesting match, but I think Tianjin's just got more firepower. Prediction: Tianjin 2 - 1 Jiangsu.

4.17 19:45 Shanghai Shenhua - Shenzhen
I really hate Shanghai and really hope Shenzhen can earn a result in this one, I really want to predict that they will, but....I just don't see it happening. Shenzhen will be going to Hongkou, a tough place to play, and they just don't have the horses. Prediction: Shanghai 1 - 0 Shenzhen.

4.18 14:30 Dalian Shide - Hangzhou Greentown
Both these sides have 2 wins and 2 losses and both won last week. Dalian isn't what they used to be, but they still have a lot of talent, and while Otto is a heck of a player, Hangzhou's squad isn't strong enough to get this tough win on the road. Prediction: Dalian 2 - 0 Hangzhou.

4.18 15:30 Changchun Yatai - Shaanxi Zhongxin
Changchun was a sleeper pick for this year's league title, but they've looked far from impressive in this year's first 4 matches. Shaanxi is always going to give you a difficult match, but they are a few players short of being a title contender. Changchun's struggles will continue as Shaanxi has just enough to hold them off. Prediction: Changchun 1 - 1 Shaanxi.

4.18 16:00 Henan Construction - Changsha Jinde
It had to happen at some point this season and this is the week it does, Changsha will finally leave the comforts of home and travel to Zhengzhou. Changsha earned their 1st win of the season against Tianjin last week, but that was an odd game due to the torrential downpour. Henan is high flying with 3 wins and is currently sitting top of the table, alongside Tianjin. I can't see Changsha pulling off 2 upsets in a row and even their defensive minded football won't be enough against Netto and Olisadebe. Prediction: Henan 1 - 0 Changsha.

4.18 19:30 Guangzhou Baiyunshan - Chongqing Lifan
Chonqing has some attacking skill, but beyond that, they aren't a very good team and this newly promoted team could be yo-yoing back down fairly quickly. Guangzhou is a mid-table side with some definite talent. Prediction: Guangzhou 2 - 0 Chongqing

4.19 15:30 Qingdao Zhongneng - Chengdu Blades
The Sunday spotlight falls to these two average sides as they go head to head in Qingdao. These two are both hoping not to be relegated this season, but I have a feeling (more just a hope, but oh well) Chengdu's going down. Prediction: Qingdao 2 - 1 Chengdu.

So there you go, I have a feeling a number of these will go wrong, but let's hope all the action isn't just on Friday night.

Matchday 5 Preview : Shandong Luneng

I'm coming to you once again on yet another beautiful, er, "overcast" spring Friday in the 'Jing as due to the Champions League, we're once again treated to Friday soccer. This time the Boys in Green will be traveling to Jinan to take on last year's league champs, Shandong Luneng.

Guoan's stated goal is clear, they plan on going to Jinan and bringing 3 points back to Beijing. Shandong responded by saying that "they can understand the goal of earning 3 points, but a goal is just a goal, not a result." This little war of words has been interesting, but people on both sides have said they are friends off the field and opponents on it. This is made obvious by the number of Shandong players (like Li Leilei and Lv Zheng) who are from Beijing and, in some cases, have even spent time in the Guoan academy.

Right now, Guoan sits in 3rd place, 1 point ahead of Shandong, and both teams are coming off victories last weekend that helped to right the ship after disappointing losses (Guoan's in Korea, Shandong's after being crushed by Shenhua). It will be interesting to see what Lee Jangsoo does with Guoan's lineup after it appeared there was a fresh start last week. He also has a difficult time as Guoan is stacked with a lot of similar players, the debate over Ryan Griffiths vs. Du Wenhui and Tao Wei vs. Huang Bowen has been raging. This week, it looks like Huang will make his way back into the lineup, while Du and Griffiths will both be on the bench, while Yang Hao will be moved to the left side, where he'll be a good match for Shandong's Lv Zheng.

Shandong's lineup is not expected to change, expect all their stars, including Li Leilei, Li Jinyu, Han Peng, and this year's new edition Lebanese star Roda Antar all to feature. Han is fairly tall at 1.85 and while Li Jinyu isn't tall, he's great in the air, I would like to see Lee mix up our defense so as to include Lang Zheng or, better yet, Paul. I really feel its time to take him out of the dog house and give him a shot, he's a big defender and should be able to help.

Friday night football is strange, but I'm getting used to it and rather like it, let's hope tonight's clash will bring us 3 points. Go Green!

This game was originally scheduled to be played in Beijing, but because of the concert of 4 Taiwnese superstars taking place at Gongti on Saturday, the game was switched to Jinan.....Beijing Assistant Coach Lv Jun will be going up against his nephew, Shandong star Lv Zheng.....Weather today in Jinan is supposed to be warm and sunny, so expect decent temperatures tonight.....Last year these two teams drew 1-1 in Beijing, while Guoan lost 2-0 in Jinan.....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Player Profile : Xu Yunlong

We're starting a new series here giving foreign fans an introduction to the player's Guoan fields week in, week out. The first choice is an incredibly easy one, as Xu Yunlong isn't only this season's team captain, but has been an integral part of the squad since he first came up in 1998.

Xu Yunlong - 徐云龙

The vitals:
age - 30
position - center back
number - 13
height - 181 cm
years with Guoan - 11
appearances - 153
goals - 22
Born and bred in Beijing, Xu Yunlong is Guoan through and through. He's an extremely versatile player who has played virtually every position on the field (except keeper), but is most comfortable as a defender, typically at center back. He started out with the youth team at the age of 14 and has been a part of Guoan ever since. His "unlucky" 13 has been one of the few consistents for Guoan over the past 10 years.
While he's never been known as an incredibly speedy player, he is creative and versatile (as mentioned above). Over the past few seasons, he's developed into an absolute shut down central back, but he also is skilled enough to go up and get involved in the offense, especially on corners and free kicks. He's already demonstrated his offensive prowess with his goal earlier this season.
Xu's regularly featured in the national team, since being brought up by Bora in 2000, and used to be part of Beijing's 3 pronged attack on the national team and Guoan, which included Yang Chen and Yang Pu.
Like Stevie Gerrard for Liverpool and Paolo Maldini at Milan, Xu is the heart of this Guoan team. He's been extremely loyal, even when bigger or better offers have come his way, he's always stayed in Beijing. Even in his younger days, Xu's fierce play and enthusiasm made him an instant leader, but now that he's a veteran, he's able to take an even greater role as mentor for younger players like Huang Bowen and Yan Xiangchuang as they develop.
Of all the Guoan players, Xu is truly a "Gongti Legend".

Monday, April 13, 2009

Matchday 4 Review : Chengdu Blades

Yes, this is how I feel right now, Guoan has finally gotten back to their winning ways, though they've yet to lose yet, its been over 3 weeks since their last win. This one was extremely watchable and showed football how it should be played.
There were lots of changes for this game, so let's look at the lineup:
Goalie - Yang Zhi
Defense - Zhou Ting, Xu Yunlong, Zhang Yonghai, Lu Jiang
Midfield - Du Wenhui, Matic, Tao Wei, Yang Hao, Martinez
Forward - Joel Griffiths
That means a ton of changes in the midfield, basically an entire overhaul with the exception of holding mid Matic, changing out Wang Changqing, Ryan Griffiths, and Huang Bowen. I don't know what Lee Jangsoo said to the team in the change room, but this was a totally different Guoan squad, taking the match directly to Chengdu right from the start. Griffiths had an early chance that was created purely by hustle, something that had been lacking in the team, but things got good a short while later when Du Wenhui scored a nice goal off a great run and cross from Martinez. That was the highlight of the half, both sides had a few good chances and Beijing's defense still didn't look solid (namely Zhang), but Yang Zhi was up for the few 1st half challenges he faced.
Going into the half up 1-nil was a nice feeling, but the way the team's played this year, I was still fairly nervous about the result, could we hold them off? The nerves quickly went away early in the 2nd half, a questionable offside call against Griffiths had me angered, but moments later, Guoan was given a free kick deep in the Chengdu end (almost by the corner flag). Tao Wei's great delivery was met by a Yang Hao header, knocking the ball deeper in the box for a sliding Griffiths who buried it, making it 2-nil and offering a nice insurance goal. Griffiths was almost able to make it 3 in the 87th minute, but couldn't get the shot off in time and was foiled by Chengdu's large keeper. The only other thing to note was Wang Ke's season debut, coming on for Martinez in the 90th minute.
Huang Bowen is one of my favorites among the current crop of Guoan players, I was there for his first goal as a 16 year old in 2004 and his rocket shots at that age showed a lot of promise, I thought he could be the future of Chinese football. He's still young, only 21 now, and going into his 6th CSL season, but he just hasn't matured to match all the previous expectations fans had for him. It's been obvious in the past few games that he's had problems figuring out how to work with Martinez and the other midfielders and hashing out what his role should be.
Switching Huang and Tao doesn't lose you very much. While Tao is more attacking, he's also very creative, and Matic has shown himself capable of being a solid defensive mid. At the same time, Martinez looked to be revitalized, and was more dangerous than ever before this year, going up and down the wing. Yang Hao was a breath of fresh air, as well, in his first game in the squad this year.
There was some talk about Lee's job security in the run-up to this match, this is simply outrageous. He's brought the team to within a point of a league title and, even if the team didn't get off to a great start, they're still undefeated in the league, currently sitting in 3rd, and also in a great position to advance in the Champions League.
The fans and media are putting too much pressure and too many expectations on this side, this is exhibit A in the case against them. Lee's one of the better CSL managers and one game, or even a few poor outings, isn't enough to condemn him, we need to show more loyalty. We need to have more faith in Lee, his decisions in this match paid off, and he's the man that can take us farthest.
That's that, I hope I don't need to be talking about that anymore this year. A great win, back to winning ways, still undefeated in the league, and have a big weekend clash against Shandong coming up, who is travelling to Jinan?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Matchday 4 Preview : Chengdu Blades

Hi all, hope you're having a great weekend so far, yesterday certainly was an interesting day in the CSL.  I'm moving today and so this is going to be a shorter post than usual, so let's get to it.

Guoan's on the road in Sichuan this weekend looking to get back its form after losing its first game of the season, a midweek Champions League defeat in Korea.  Guoan's struggled on the road this year and Chengdu came up with a big upset in their only home clash, against Shanghai Shenhua.

Don't expect to see many changes to Guoan's lineup, most likely Martinez will be in for Guo Hui and that's about it, though perhaps we'll see a few changes to the bench.  Lee Jangsoo is very unhappy (as well he should be) with the team's performance as of late, but because of fitness issues there just aren't that many changes to make and its too early to start seriously worrying.  

Let's hope for 3 points out of Guoan and no player having to apologize for stupid mistakes.  This is a team with high expectations placed on it by the media and internally high expectationsof themselves, but its time for them to relax a little and play with passion instead of pressure.  

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Matchday 4 League Preview

Thank God its Friday, which means we'll have football tomorrow to continue this incredible week. If you're here, you're a football fan, and what a week, eh? A weekend of CSL and European football, including a Monday CSL match, the European and Asian Champions League midweek, and now a full weekend of football, doesn't get much better! Match of the week? I'd say first or last, Shenzhen-Dalian or Shandong-Changchun. Last week I pulled even on predictions, here's hoping I can keep the momentum:

4.11 15:30 Shenzhen - Dalian Shide
Hmm, this is a hard one to call...Shenzhen has showed some promise so far this year and Dalian is coming off an embarassing loss in nearby Guangzhou. Both squads have been mediocre this year, this is a chance for one to step up. Prediction: Shenzhen 1 - 0 Dalian.

4.11 15:30 Jiangsu Sainty - Qingdao Zhongneng
Jiangsu finally earned its first point of the year last week while Qingdao suffered through a draw in Changsha. Jiangsu has looked dangerous so far this year, the same can't really be said for Qingdao, I have a feeling that they will struggle on the road this weekend. Prediction: Jiangsu 2 - 1 Qingdao.

4.11 19:30 Hangzhou Greentown - Guangzhou Baiyunshan
Guangzhou has gotten off to a good start under former Guoan and national team manager Shen Xiangfu, Xu Liang's currently on top of the scoring charts after his hat trick last week, Hangzhou's been up and down so far. Much like the 2 matches above, these are two squads that are looking at midtable finishes, but have aspirations for more, its this kind of match that will decide exactly how good their season will be. Prediction: Hangzhou 1 - 2 Guangzhou.

4.12 15:30 Chongqing Lifan - Henan Jianye
Henan's won twice this year against average teams, but have done so at home. Chongqing is a team that is likely to go down unless big foreigners like Guinee will be able to carry them to some goals, I have a feeling its not going to happen this weekend. Prediction: Chongqing 0 - 2 Henan.

4.12 15:30 Shaanxi Zhongxin - Shanghai Shenhua
Shanghai's coming off of two big wins in the domestic and Champions League, but haven't faired well away from the comforts of Hongkou. Shaanxi's in a similar situation having done well at home, but struggling on the road, while I don't think they'll be able to upset Shenhua, this could very well be a draw. Prediction: Shaanxi 1 -1 Shanghai.

4.12 16:05 Chengdu Blades - Beijing Guoan
I've predicted Guoan in every one of their matches so far, going with my heart, this one will be no different, though they really should win this one (full preview of the match coming later). Prediction: Chengdu 0 - 1 Beijing.

4.12 19:30 Changsha Jinde - Tianjin Teda

Ahh, another home match in Changsha, this is their 4th straight match at home, the only team with such a comfortable opening. The masters of the scoreless draw are going up against the team that has scored the most so far this year. How powerful is Changsha's kungfu? I think Tianjin's going to be able to maintain their spot on top, though they won't be able to fully expose Changsha's 11 behind the ball. Prediction: Changsha 0 - 1 Tianjin.

4.12 19:30 Shandong Luneng - Changchun Yatai
And finally, the 2007 champions travel to the 2008 Champions. Shandong licked their wounds after the shellacking they took in Shanghai by winning in the Champions League midweek, but still look to be seriously missing Zhou Haibin. Changchun's started strong with 2 wins and a draw to sit in 3rd place. This is a tough one to call, but I have a feeling Changchun will hammer out a tough fought road win. Prediction: Shandong 1 - 2 Changchun.

That's it for now, have a great weekend and enjoy the football (and hopefully nice weather too)!

Matchday 3 Recap

Results this week were very interesting, especially Shanghai's stunning victory, so let's not wait:

Tianjin Teda 2 - 0 Chongqing Lifan: RIGHT
Tianjin netted two 1st half goals, one by Wang Xinxin, and then cruised through the 2nd half, this team's league performance is head and shoulders above everyone else.  Original prediction: Tianjin 3 - 0 Chongqing.

Beijing Guoan 1 - Jiangsu Sainty: WRONG

Shanghai Shenhua 4 - 1 Shandong Luneng: WRONG
Shandong's Antar scored yet another CSL goal, opening up the scoring, but Shenhua came back with 2 very lucky goals in the last 5 minutes of the half.  Adding two more in the 2nd half killed the game and gave Shanghai a big boost going into Champions League matchday 3.  Original prediction: Shangha 1 - 1 Shandong

Shenzhen 2 - 1 Shaanxi Zhongxin: RIGHT
Shenzhen had a magical 5 minutes, scoring goals in the 27th and 30th minutes of the 1st half to jump ahead of Shaanxi, whose 2nd half response wasn't enough to make up the difference, I got this one on the button.  Original prediction: Shenzhen 2 - 1 Shaanxi

Changchun Yatai 2 - 0 Chengdu Blades: RIGHT
Another crazy game, Changchun broke the scorelessness in the 85th minute and then followed it up with another two minutes later.  Chengdu came back with a great free kick chance in stoppage time, but to no avail.  Original prediction: Changchun 1 - 0 Chengdu

Changsha Jinde 1 - 1 Qingdao Zhongneng: RIGHT
Another big bingo!  Yet this one was easy to call, so far Changsha has managed 3 draws, only scoring 1 goal, its pretty easy to guess what their anti-football will produce, this time Qingdao was the victim.  Original prediction Changsha 1 - 1 Qingdao.

Henan Jianye 2 - 0 Hangzhou Greentown: RIGHT
Another game where the score was kept even for a long time and then was shocked by a sudden scoring spree.  The former Polish international Olisadebe knocked in a brace with goals in the 79th and 84th minutes of the match.  Only good thing I can say for Hangzhou is that they were all wearing the same jersey this time around.  Original prediction: Henan 2 - 1 Hangzhou

Guangzhou Baiyunshan 3 - 1 Dalian Shide: WRONG
What can I say, I thought Dalian was a better squad than what it turns out they are.  I knew this team was rebuilding, but I thought it would be better.  At the half the score was 1-1 after a Xu Liang spot kick goal and then one of Dalian's Korean exports knocking one past the keeper 10 minutes later.  Xu added 2 more in the 2nd half, one off yet another penalty, the other from a free kick that has to be one of the prettiest goals scored to date.  Original prediction: Guangzhou 0 - 2 Dalian.

A 5-3 week, a major improvement from last week, but it still leaves me only 8-8 on the season.  Here's hoping for more great football this week.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Champions League Matchday 3 Recap : Ulsan Hyundai

Sorry folks, there's not been a lot of action around here lately (and we still owe you a CSL recap, coming tonight) and of course tomorrow will be predictions about this weekend's upcoming matches. Matchday 3 of the Champions League featured 4 Chinese teams facing off against 4 Korean teams, the 2 home teams won, the 2 away teams lost, unfortunately Guoan was one of the away teams.

Big thoughts:
1. We. Need. Height.
2. I could care less about you "stepping up", next time don't make the mistake!

The big team news was that Du Wenhui (for Martinez), Zhou Ting (for Zhang Xinxin), and Yan Xiangchuang (for Wang Changqing) were all used as starters. Lee also kept Zhang Yonghai on the pitch at center back, this was massive mistake number one. The crowd in Ulsan probably didn't top out at over 1,000 people, and quite possibly more like 500, of which 50 were very loud (or miked up) Guoan fans. What do the Korean fans know/don't know about this competition? Crowds in China were huge for both matches there, crowds in Korea were tiny.

On to the game, Guoan started out fast with two great early chances, the best from a Matic longball to Du, who was too quick with his shot when he had time. From then on, the first half was almost entirely Ulsan.

I don't know much about Kim Shin-wook and couldn't find very much about him online. He wears number 24 for Ulsan and is 1.96 meters and that's about all I needed to know, but after the performance on Tuesday, it wouldn't surprise me if you told me he was Korea's greatest soccer prospect ever. Kim straight up killed it, every long ball, every free kick was incredibly dangerous namely because Kim was huge and the tallest guy Guoan had on the field was 1.83 meters, meaning he won literally every header. It made for an incredibly dangerous first half as Guoan's defense was asleep much of the time, though thank God for Yang Zhi who kept the squad in the game. The only good development for Guoan was Huang Bowen taking a shot that challenged the keeper late in the half, not unusual except this was a rocket from outside the box. Damn, I really wish I could see a lot more of this from Guoan players, instead of constantly trying to play the ball into the box.

It was quite obvious Guoan needed to bring on 1.88 meter Lang Zheng or Paul in the 2nd half, however Lee took nearly 10 minutes to bring on Lang for Zhang Yonghai, which almost led to a goal a few minutes earlier when an Ulsan forward broke into the box (off of a headed long ball) and Zhou Ting gave him a slight push, but fortunately no foul. Just after the Lang move, Lee brought on Tao Wei for Ryan Griffiths.

Yang continued saving Guoan from a major beating throughout the 2nd half, but he was finally beaten when two Guoan defenders (Xu and Zhou) looked like they were totally lost and an Ulsan player was finally able to put one past Yang in the 69th minute.

With all the traffic being one way, it didn't look like Guoan was going to have a chance at pulling this one out, but Tao Wei played a great ball in to the elder Griffiths who was pushed over in the box and the referee gave a penalty kick. As a Guoan supporter, I admit it was kind of a soft call, I was also elated about it as I thought we'd be able to steal a point out of the game.

Huang Bowen stepped up to take the spot kick in the 84th minute and...the keeper made the save. From then on it was a foregone conclusion, Beijing's spirit was shot and there was no way they'd get a point out of the match.

It was an extremely ugly game for a Guoan fan as the side was almost completely impotent, the two best chances came in the very first minute and at the very end of the match. Huang apologized for not scoring the penalty, but a few members of the defense should also be apologetic.

Guoan has now scored 1 goal in 3 games, a miserable stat, made worse by how hard it is to watch their ugly football. We need size, Lee, please take Paul out of the doghouse for at least one match, let's see what happens. We need players to start clicking, at this point it still seems like nobody is on the same page and too many of our defenders, put simply, don't seem to understand how to play defense.

Things are made worse in the Champions League because Newcastle earned a draw in Osaka, meaning first place and fourth place are only separated by 2 points. Fortunately 2 out of the 3 remaining group games will be played at Gongti, so hopefully we will be able to recuperate and advance on top of the group.

Turn the focus on to the league and forget about this result for a fortnight.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Champions League Matchday 3 : Ulsan Hyundai

Good afternoon from a hazy Beijing as our boys take on Ulsan Hyundai in Korea today. The game sort of snuck up on me after the long holiday weekend here (although I spent it in rather lovely, spring-ey Beijing), so this will be relatively short, sweet and to the point. Yes, I'm standing up like a Guoan defender (or forward) and taking the blame instead of simply passing the buck to Guoan's locker room gag order leading to limited news. Sure, there's the story of Lee Jangsoo heading back to Korea to face his university friend Kim Hokon, there's also the fact they have a Newcastle Jets defender who will be going up against the fabulous Griffiths boys, and then there's that they are sponsored by Hyundai, who briefly were lead sponsors of Guoan a few years back and....well, that's that. Oh wait, they're also coming off a draw this weekend, though they've only earned 2 points in 3 games so far this year.

In the Champions League, Ulsan has struggled so far, losing in their first two matches and there have been accusations that the manager is ignoring this competition and picking sides packed with reserve players. Guoan, currently sitting tied for top of the group with Osaka can certainly make their road a lot easier with a full 3 points in this match.

Lee has declared he's excited to be coaching a match in his homeland and that his side won't be afraid of their Korean counterparts, despite the trend in Chinese football, mainly at the national team level, of "fearing Korea". I would expect Lee to make more adjustments to the lineup than usual, using this as a chance for some of his recently recovering players to get match fit while resting some of the players who've been regulars in the lineup so far this campaign. Expect significant time for Zhou Ting, Zhang Yonghai, and Tao Wei in this match. What will be more interesting is how Lee handles the attacking setup, Joel Griffiths who was out with a red card suspension on Friday is likely to feature, but will Lee try to experiment a little and sit Martinez? Will Paul finally be removed from Lee's doghouse?

Get home from work early (or find a bar with the game on), as its a 6 pm (Beijing time) kick off tonight!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Matchday 3 Review : Jiangsu Sainty

Greetings from beautiful Beijing!  It's such a lovely evening tonight and we're now coming to the end of an absolutely gorgeous holiday weekend, if not for Friday's result (and our fair city being overwhelmed by waidi ren over the past few days) I'd be able to enjoy it even more.  Let's stop beating around the bush and go straight into the details...

The starting 11 for Guoan featured a few minor adjustments this week, mostly expected.  At the back, Zhang Yonghai was given a run out after finally being approved as fit by the training staff, replacing Lang Zheng at center back.  The only other adjustment was Guo Hui starting in place of Joel Griffiths, who was out after that insane red card last week.

At home, a big crowd, a Friday night, against a team yet to earn a point in 2 matches, pretty straightforward, right?  Despite their record, we knew Jiangsu was still a decent squad, but I don't think any Guoan fan would have expected the end result.  

Jiangsu went on the attack early and only 6 minutes in, one of their foreign forwards got the ball on the left wing and put what should have been a very easily blocked centering pass past Xu Yunlong (defensive error 1), Zhang Yonghai was frozen in place by the ball (perhaps because this was his first match back (defensive error 2)) and Lu Jiang stood watching as the other Jiangsu foreign striker went unchallenged and tapped the ball past Yang Zhi to make it 1-nil to Jiangsu.  What. the. fuck.  Lots of fans had yet to sit down and we're already losing?!?  

Guoan picked up the pace and had two really good opportunities, one in the 27th minute when the ball fell to Xu Yunlong from a corner, the other in the 33rd minute when Wang Changqing knocked it wide.  A few minutes later a Jiangsu forward had his own good opportunity when the defense fell asleep again.  Shortly after the whistle sounded and Guoan went into the change room down a goal.

Manager Lee decided it was time for a change in the 2nd half, bringing Tao Wei and Du Wenhui on for Wang and Guo Hui.  The moves seemed to pay off as Guoan went on the attack and Tao had a great opportunity squandered after a big rebound on a Du shot.  In the 65th, Matic played a good ball in to Du, but the keeper came up with a nice save.  Guoan had chance after chance but they just kept going wide.  However, a minute later, the ball was crossed into the box, mayhem ensued as it bounced around, finally falling between Tao and Du, Tao swung at it and knocked it in to equalize and get the Gongti crowd excited again.

It looked like Guoan would take the lead only 3 minutes later when Martinez played a great ball in to Ryan Griffiths, though his header went just wide.  In the 75 minute, Lee took Lu off and put on Yan Xiangchuang hoping to take all 3 points off of Jiangsu, but it was for naught as the Jiangsu keeper kept his wits about him and made a huge save on Yan in the 87th minute.

1-1, another 2 points dropped.  What can I say?  Another Monday and once again feeling depressed about a game that we could have so easily won, instead beaten by a weaker side's defensive strategy and good goaltending. Jiangsu also did everything they possibly could to delay the game late in the 2nd half, but I'm used to that after having watched Chinese football for awhile.

It might get harder to provide a look into the minds of the players as after this draw, needing to change something, the players have agreed to a gag order and will not talk to the media.  Secretly, one team member is quoted as saying that in the locker room the player's moods are positive, its just that the media is constantly talking about all the pressure on the team.  Also, yet another game and yet another player stepping up and saying it was his fault, this time Zhang accepted blame for his mistake on the Jiangsu goal.

Over the course of the past 2 games, Guoan continuously plays long balls or crosses in from the wing, but to no avail.  The CSL is somewhat unique in that while the majority of players are Chinese, many of the center forwards and defenders are foreign, typically over 1.85 meters.  Jiangsu's central defenders were 1.86 and 1.88, respectively, whereas the tallest Guoan forward on the pitch was only 1.82 meters.  It's a problem that Lee recognizes and, according to him, the perfect scenario would be Guoan bringing in a striker who is at least 1.87 meters.  Will it happen?  Who knows at this point, but at least the manager recognizes this problem.

5 points in 3 matches, leaving us 4 points away from Tianjin, in first.  Tianjin's opponents so far this year have been fairly weak (Dalian, Hangzhou, and Chongqing), though ours have been equally weak.  I feel like I'm repeating myself, its still early in the season, but dropping points to teams like Jiangsu and Changsha, especially at home this week, is going to make things a real uphill battle as we get deeper in the season.  

A break for the Champions League on Wednesday as we head to Korea midweek.  Here's to a good start of the week tomorrow.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Matchday 3 Preview : Jiangsu Sainty

So we get a Friday night fight at Gongti between Guoan and last year's 1st Division champions, Jiangsu Sainty. Guoan is undefeated in all competitions so far this season, winning both matches they played at home by convincing fashion whereas Jiangsu has yet to earn a point in 2 matches this season, however that includes a late defeat against Shanghai and an unlucky loss last week, so don't expect this Jiangsu squad to be a total pushover.

In team news, Joel Griffiths will be sitting this one out after his questionable red card last week, which means Lee Jangsoo has a choice to make who he'll put up top, most likely to pair with Martinez. Guo Hui, Du Wenhui, and Yan Xiangchuang are all possibilities, but my guess is that it will be Du as Lee's liked to use him as a sub and will want to help him get his confidence back after the blown shot last week. It's also very likely that Paul won't see himself suiting up tomorrow and that our two injured veterans, Zhang Yonghai and Zhou Ting, will suit up. Most likely neither will be included in the starting lineup (or at least Zhou won't be), but I'd expect Lee to try and give them both some time in the game.

It will be interesting if the shortened week of practice helped sort out the Martinez/Huang Bowen difficulties. It seems Martinez likes the ball at his feet and needs to play in the hole behind a striker because he's the typical small, stocky(ish) South American forward and the CSL is all about the big man up top. The problem could be solved with Huang on the wing or, best of all, getting them to work together.

The last time these two squads met was back in 1994, when they were both founding members of the then brand new Jia A League. However, Jiangsu manager Pei Encai has a lot of experience going head-to-head against Guoan as former coach of Bayi and Wuhan and has earned himself 2 wins and 3 draws in 6 matches against the side.

Expect some Friday fireworks at Gongti and the fans are surely going to be out in masse and ready for this opportunity. As for me, I'll be making a stop by the Den before the match and then staying in the area afterwords for a drink or two (or possibly even hitting up Mix on a long bar crawl). It's sure to be a great night, but Guoan has got to win this one.

Matchday 3 League Preview

This weekend sees 4 days of matches, lots of football action for the fans, including a holiday Monday matchup. Last week I went 3-5, hopefully this week will be a lot better.

4.03 19:30 Tianjin Teda - Chongqing Lifan
Due to the Champions League, we get treated to some Friday evening football, with 3 out of the 4 CL competitors playing at home. Tianjin has a perfect 6 points in CSL competition so far and taking on a whipping boy like Chongqing at home should be another easy 3 points for them. Prediction: Tianjin 3 - 0 Chongqing (though I wouldn't be surprised if Guinee continues his scoring streak)

4.03 19:30 Beijing Guoan - Jiangsu Sainty
Guoan is unbeaten in all competitions, having won twice at home and drawing twice on the road. A Friday night at Gongti is a rare experience and its sure to be a raucous crowd that will watch the Green Lions face off against last year's 1st division champions who've yet to earn a point this year. Should be easy pickings for Guoan. Prediction: Beijing 2 - 0 Jiangsu

4.03 19:30 Shanghai Shenhua - Shandong Luneng
This is the matchup of the weekend, last year's champion, Shandong, travels to Shanghai to take on last year's runners up. This one's hard to call with Shanghai playing at home in Hongkou and trying to recover from last week's debacle. Will be a great one. Prediction: Shanghai 1 - 1 Shandong

4.04 15:30 Shenzhen - Shaanxi Zhongxin
I like Shenzhen and believe in them after their away draw against Shandong, but last week was a tough derby loss. Shaanxi's also coming off a loss and looking to get back in form, in these early days, this is a hard call, but I'm sticking with Shenzhen in Saturday's only match. Prediction: Shenzhen 2 - 1 Shaanxi

4.05 15:30 Changchun Yatai - Chengdu Blades
Changchun opens up their home season tonight against a Chengdu team that has to be excited after their win over Shenhua. The elements in Changchun and the strength of that side should carry them past the Blades in a close one. Prediction: Changchun 1 - 0 Chengdu

4.05 15:30 Changsha Jinde - Qingdao Zhongneng
Two teams toward the bottom of the table go head to head in Hunan. Changsha plays anti-football and is incredibly boring to watch, but its been relatively effective so far earning them 2 points in 2 matchs, I have a feeling we're looking at another draw for them. Prediction: Changsha 1 - 1 Qingdao

4.05 15:30 Henan Jianye - Hangzhou Greentown
A win and a loss for each of these teams so far this season, Hangzhou's going to put up a fight (in its 2 different kits), but Henan and Netto will push past. Prediction: Henan 2 - 1 Hangzhou

4.06 16:00 Guangzhou Baiyunshan - Dalian Shide
The big holiday Monday matchup in Guangzhou as the home side takes on Dalian. Both teams are coming off a win, Guangzhou in their local derby and Dalian over Henan, but I don't think Guangzhou has the guns to get past Dalian. Prediction: Guangzhou 0 - 2 Dalian

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Matchday 2 CSL Top XI

Soccer News has picked its top XI from Matchday 2 and this time around its a 442:

Li Leilei (Shandong Luneng)

Cao Yang (Tianjin Teda)
Li Zhihai (Guangzhou Baiyunshan)
Tang Jing (Changchun Yatai)
Liu Yu (Chengdu Blades)

Zhang Yuan (Chengdu Blades)
Wang Xinxin (Tianjin Teda)
Antar (Shandong Luneng)
Zhao Mingjian (Dalian Shide)

Rodrigues (Chengdu Blades)
Guinee (Chongqing Lifan)